by Cindy Regnier
Did your grandma crochet doilies and have one on end tables or displayed across a dresser top? Mine did and it’s a great memory. Many of them are still treasured keepsakes in my family. Today, the word doily might make you think of dark wood furniture in old homes with doilies scattered about. It might surprise you to learn that doilies are still popular today, whether Grandma crocheted them or you bought them at the local department store.
The word ‘doily’ originated from the surname Doiley, a London firm that made fringed napkins in the 1700s according to “Homes and Antiques”. Those napkins were not crocheted. Actually, crochet as we know it today hasn’t been around that long. Opinions differ on its origin but the earliest mention of crocheting was in a Swedish magazine in 1819. By 1844 cotton was being mercerized to make the thread stronger so it would hold its shape better. During the Irish Famine of 1846 nuns taught it to students who sold their doilies as a means of helping to support the convent. This is where the technique of Irish Crochet developed.
In the Victorian era. Well-born young ladies were taught to make doilies as they were expected to have a supply in their hope chests. As well as being decorative, they were used in serving food and protecting delicate furniture.
According to Good Housekeeping, 1905, doilies were placed beneath toast, rolls or muffins. It should fit inside the rim of the plate without hanging over the sides. In a New York times article published in 1909, doilies were placed beneath the finger bowl. According to the article, “For less formal use the finger bowl is set upon a doily on the dessert plate and is removed with its doily and set at one side of the plate until needed. It is bad form to pass a finger bowl without a plate and doily under it. The latter should never be omitted, though it is sometimes done ignorantly.”
In The Etiquette and Service of the Table, written by the Department of Domestic Science, Kansas State Agricultural College, dated 1916, it states that “At breakfast and at luncheon the table-cloth is sometimes discarded, and a center piece, with an individual doily for each article to be set upon the table, is used.” It also states that the water pitcher is placed upon a small plate or tray, on which there may be a doily. The assumption is for the doily to soak up any condensation. (Hey, it’s a thing. I actually went to college at this place now known as Kansas State University. I don’t think I ever saw a doily there, however.)
In 1920, Everyman’s Encyclopedia of Etiquette by Emily Holt discusses the use of doilies at the luncheon table. “…the service plate must be laid upon a doily of suitable size which in its turn rests upon an asbestos pad. The water glass also stands on a small doily toward the centre and at the right of the service plate, and on a slightly larger doily at the left stands the bread-and-butter plate with a small silver knife lying flat across it.”
I’ve seen old pictures from inside my great-grandmother’s home of very intricately crocheted doilies draped over the top of a piano and over the backs and arms of chairs. I sure wish I knew what happened to them.
Though now yellowed, they still show her lovely craftsmanship
I still have the doilies my great-grandmother crocheted to fit the shelves of her rounded front china cabinet.
Since the 1970s craft publications have offered patterns for all kinds of doilies. You can make them colored, in shapes such as angels or owls, even incorporate them into your wardrobe by applying one to the front of a t-shirt. They are also popular in the wedding world where miniature doily dresses make shower invitations.
Doilies are usually made from cotton thread. In one of my books, an editor advised me to change the term “ball of crochet thread” to “yarn.” I refused. I think we settled on something like “string” since it was being described by a man. Take my word for it. Crochet thread is very different from yarn and requires a whole different kind of equipment as well as technique.
Today doilies are mass-produced, you don’t have to crochet them.
|Bargain bin doilies
|A few of Grandma's doilies. Aren't they beautiful?